Lyric Analysis #4: ‘Space Oddity’ – David Bowie

The last lyric analysis done here was on Silverchair’s ‘Asylum’ and that was more than one year and a half ago. I thought it’d be fun to revive this little series where I share my personal interpretation of interesting songs.

David Bowie Space Oddity

David Bowie is one my favourite musicians of all time but many people today probably haven’t even heard of him or his stuffs. This man is a legend and to me, he contributed to music revolution even more than Elvis Presley did. Appearance style wise, he’s probably the one who made weird cool. Fuck Lady Gaga. Fuck Katy Perry. Fuck all the J-rock posers today too.

Space Oddity is the song that got him the initial breakthrough in his career back in 1969 and it’s definitely one of the very first and influential space rock that I’ve heard in my life. It’s a song that compelled me by its seemingly straightforward story that blends well with the melody and the epic music. Who knows what David Bowie was thinking when he wrote this song.

Ground control to Major Tom
Ground control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on
Ground control to Major Tom
Commencing countdown, engine’s on
Check ignition and may god’s love be with you

This is ground control to Major Tom, you’ve really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirt you wear
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare
This is Major Tom to ground control, I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in the most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today
For here, am I sitting in a tin can, far above the world
Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do

Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles, I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much, she knows
Ground control to Major Tom, your circuits’ dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you… here, am I sitting in my tin can, far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do

If you take the song literally, it doesn’t seem like there’s anything much to explain. It would seem like it’s basically about an English astronaut that has successfully gone into outer space and has gotten really famous. “And the papers want to know whose shirt you wear” basically means that the reporters are suddenly interested in which football club he supports. He then got dared to step out of his spacecraft, which he did. Then something went wrong, he lost communication with ground control and he’s forever lost in space.

However, there’s another meaning to it that I see. The lyrics could be the point of view of someone who’s getting really high on drugs and is at point of no return. The line that got me thinking was “Take your protein pills and put your helmets on“. That could easily mean, “Let’s pop some pills and get ready to get really high.” Lines after those verses relate to that perspective even more. He got high, he’s hallucinating that he’s loved and cared, and then he’s floating around, feeling very still it seems. Then apparently he got even higher from “far above the world” to “far above the moon” before getting lost in his state of euphoria.

I got the confirmation that I was sort of right when I heard his other song, ‘Ashes to Ashes‘, which is considered to be the indirect sequel to Space Oddity. Ashes to Ashes lyrics says, “We know Major Tom’s a junkie, strung out in Heaven’s high, hitting an all-time low.” Major Tom could also be a metaphor for drugs because at the end of Ashes to Ashes, Bowie sings, “My mother said, to get things done, you’d better not mess with Major Tom.” There are a few more spinoffs of Major Tom in songs by other artistes that depicts the character as a real astronaut.

Well, I hope this is as interesting to you as it was to me. What a song.

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